Folate in Pregnancy – Not Folic Acid Supplements

folate and pregnancy

Folate and folic acid are important nutrients for anyone, but this is especially true during pregnancy; not just for the mother, but especially for the baby. Although these two terms, “folate” and “folic acid,” are often interchanged in their use by physicians and even nutritionists, the fact is that they are different, and folate in pregnancy is actually more important than folic acid.

The difference between folic acid and folate in pregnancy is simple. Folic acid is merely the synthetic, man-made, and inferior form of folate. But it goes further. Folate in pregnancy vs folic acid, is important for health reasons to the mother. Here is why…

Folate is natural and is found in foods such as greens (collards, turnip, mustard), oranges, nuts, and other foods, but folic acid has a reputation of possibly being bad for you, and even causing a higher risk for cancer (prostate cancer and colon cancer).

Folate in pregnancy – why it is important

Babies’ health is reliant on folate in pregnancy. High risk pregnancies, such as with older mothers, generate the need for at least 1,000 mcg of folate (although folic acid is often prescribed by doctors) per day, even a few months prior to getting pregnant, to help prevent neural tube defects (NTD) in newborn babies.

NTD’s include spina bifida, which can be a lifelong and debilitating defect for the child. This is entirely preventable with folate in pregnancy, especially the first month of pregnancy since that is when spina bifida develops. Many mothers do not even realize they are pregnant in the first several weeks, so the risk goes up.

Folate in pregnancy is not just an issue for mothers-to-be; folate deficiency has been called the “most common vitamin deficiency in the US.” Conditions like anemia, NTD (birth defects of the brain and spinal cord), elevated homocysteine (increasing risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease), and increased risk of some cancers are all related to a lack of folate in pregnancy, or folate in general. Although taking folic acid (the synthetic version of folate) should help alleviate the risk of cancer, it actually can increase it, whereas folate does not have the same effect.

How to get enough folate in pregnancy

Sufficient intake folate in pregnancy is important so one does not become deficient. Folate deficiency is most often caused by inadequate dietary intake, but also can be associated with important factors like an increased requirement (from lactation or pregnancy), malabsorption, folate being eliminated from the body too readily, or hepatic (liver) metabolism that has been altered.

Vitamin B9 is the same thing as folate, but even prenatal vitamins of excellent quality typically contain folic acid instead of folate. You can increase your folate in pregnancy by eating foods naturally high in folate, such as spinach and liver. There are also natural supplements of folate instead of folic acid, but they are rare and harder to find.

Be sure to take at least 800-1200 mcg of folate in pregnancy and during lactation. Others have said that using “Pure Encapsulations Folate (slightly higher quality) and Solgar Folate (less expensive)” have given them good results.

The only downside with folate is that the body does not absorb it very readily, so be sure to take more and eat plenty of natural food sourcea for your folate in pregnancy. Eating liver once per week, for example, can help, as well as eating plenty of your daily greens. Also, be sure to talk with your doctor or naturopath about folic acid or folate in pregnancy.


The author of this story is a freelance contributor to National Nutraceuticals’ online news portals, such as Amino Acid Information Center at and Vancouver Health News at  National Nutraceuticals, Inc. also owns and operates a third health news portal focusing on medicinal mushrooms at, plus our newest portal at

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